Cows are often deliberate in choosing what to eat. Specifically, a cow will tend to prefer shorter forage because it is easier to eat. However, much of the hay that cows are fed are much longer than they eat if left to their own devices. Importantly, shorter feed is not only less taxing to eat, but also easier to digest and provides better nutrition. For this reason, farmers should consider how to optimize feed for their cows.
Cows have multiple stomachs that allow them to break down their food so that they can extract nutrients from its plant-based meals. Notably, though, cows, even with these additional stomachs, do not have the necessary gut bacteria to break down the outermost layer of their food. For this reason, cows must chew up their food to destroy this outermost layer so that their gut bacteria can do the work of breaking down the food and extracting the nutrients. In order to save a cow time and energy, you can cut down your hay to a very short length so that it does not have to spend time breaking down its food.
Overall, the main takeaway should be that to aid in a cow’s digestion, the best approach is to give it shorter feed. Of course, this raises the question of how exactly to shorten one’s feed. There are several approaches to this:
First, using a mower can help to crush forage. In doing this, the hay’s outermost layer will be broken down and will, as a result, be easier to shorten.
Second, using haylage (hay that has a higher moisture content) will make it easier to break down the feed into smaller portions. In general, dry hay is more difficult to break down.
Third, certain dietary supplements have been shown to increase the rate at which a cow can digest fiber. Although it is vital to make sure to do your research about the efficacy and safety of different supplements, this can be a great approach to help your cows digest fiber at a better rate.
Cows are well-suited to break down plants in a way that most other animals cannot. Nevertheless, their system for doing this is still somewhat inefficient. As such, you should still investigate ways to help your cow digest fiber more efficiently, whether it be through manually cutting hay or by giving cows dietary supplements.
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